Atlantic Menhaden, also known as: Mossbunker, Peanut Bunker, Bunker, Pogy, or Fatback. Whatever you may call it (we’ll call it Bunker, as it is most commonly referred to in the bait and tackle shops on the Outer Banks) – this is a prime choice when tossing bait out into the surf in hopes of catching trophy fish or a yummy dinner from the Outer Banks surf. Red Drum, Bluefish, Striped Bass, Flounder, Sharks, Spanish Mackerel (to name a few) all prey on this common, yet important forage fish. Traveling in large schools, bunker swim the bays, estuaries, inlets, surf and other near shore coastal waters off the Atlantic Coast. In the late summer and early autumn, the juveniles (Peanut Bunker) are leaving their estuary home for the ocean. Game fish feast on these young fish as they migrate along the shore. You can get fresh Bunker during most of the year at the tackle shops on the Outer Banks, as there is a sizable population of these fish in and around the Outer Banks. I usually pick up a few pounds of Bunker, cut the bait into steaks and attach a chunk to a fish finding rig. If I do not immediately cut the bait, I at least gut the fish in order to keep it fresher, longer. It is important to keep your bait fresh. Never let it soak in the melt water of your cooler. Doing so, will strip away the smelly fish oils in the meat and make it less appealing to your quarry. I place my bait in a water tight bag. Then I place this and a frozen bottle of water in a small cooler kept inside a larger cooler full of ice. Along the same line of thought, always replace the bait on your hook every fifteen minutes. Fresh bait is the best bait. If you prefer artificial lures over bait, there are tin squids out there that are designed look specifically like the Peanut Bunker. When the schools of juveniles are close to shore and being busted up by the game fish consult with a local tackle shop for lure recommendations – I make it a point to talk with the crew at Red Drum Tackle Shop in Buxton, NC when I travel to the Outer Banks.
The Fish Finder Rig is perhaps one of the best forms of terminal tackle when fishing with a piece of Bunker steak as bait. It is nothing more than a single circle hook snelled to a length of leader material. Thread a pyramid sinker attached to a sinker slide to your shock leader. Attach your hook leader to your shock leader via a swivel. This arrangement will allow the fish to take your baited hook and swim away with it without feeling the weight of the sinker. I like to take a dozen or so 12 inch pieces of 80 lb fluorocarbon (smaller length if you can, the goal is to have only about 4 to 6 inches of leader on the finished product) and snell them to hooks the night before a fishing trip. This allows me to have spare hook and hook leaders at the ready for a quick change out when needed.
Referring to Bunker as Fatback always makes me think of Scallops wrapped in bacon. Mmmm…
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